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Publication Date: 
December, 1992
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The central question in scientific metaphysics is: How do we come to know what we claim to know? This is a question that science cannot proceed far without answering. Indeed, as Edwin Arthur Burtt (The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science, London: Routledge, 1949, p. 224) once argued, metaphysics is inescapable in science, even when the philosophy of science under which one operates steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the fact.

In the current age marked by both a post-Kuhnian philosophy of science and the impact of modern biology, this central question has become more urgent and has taken on some facets that have muddied the waters and posed additional difficulties in seeking a solution. For instance, if one holds that the world of experience is produced by the nervous system for its own consumption, then what is "reality" and how can we ever hope to know its nature? More to the point, how do we relate social and psychological aspects of pre- and perinatal life to the biological systems that underpin them? This question is implied in Dr. Harold Buttram's letter to the editor in this issue, in which he suggests the need for further research on the biochemistry of marital bonding, and the influence of this bonding on the development of offspring.

The social-psychological vs. biological dualism involved in the central metaphysical question is a social manifestation of a more fundamental dualism-a dualism that is usually called the "mind-body," or "mind-brain" problem. And the mind-body problem is apparently as intractable as it is obstructive to reaching a holistic understanding of human nature. The mind-body problem continues to plague our metaphysical musings, as well as pre- and perinatal psychology, despite the fact that it is increasingly untenable in an age of modern biology. As we come to find out more and more about the evolution of the human species, we are driven to the conclusion that consciousness and the various factors of consciousness are functions or activities of the nervous system-and that the nervous system is a complex biochemical system. One requirement, then, for solutions to the central question, the question of how we know what we claim to know, is learning to speak in a single voice about the conscious human organism.

Most scientists are products of Euroamerican enculturation into an essentially materialist culture that bifurcates experience into a mental world and a physical world. The roots of dualism in their thought extend back into their early childhood conditioning, and tend to permeate not only the languages they speak but also their actual experience of themselves and their world.

It is apparent to me that a solution to our central question requires a level of transcultural understanding unavailable to most philosophers and scientists whose attitudes and beliefs are ethnocentric-that is, uncritically formed by their cultural views. The absence of a cross-cultural critique of metaphysics means that scientists often cannot cleanly distinguish essential structures from cultural norms, and are unable to appreciate the extent to which their experience of their mind and body conditions their views about the relationship between the two in their research.

The kind of research called for by Dr. Buttram can go a long way toward ameliorating the more extreme effects of mind-body dualism, like the perpetuation of the belief that fetuses and newborns possess a body but no consciousness, a belief that has led to all kinds of foolish obstetrical practices.

And speaking of obstetrical practices, Dr. Thomas Verny evaluates a number of these practices in his article in this issue. Joann CLeary then presents a theory of the role of the unborn child in developing the parent-child bond. Dr. David Cheek presents evidence from hypnotic age-regression suggesting that the fetus is in telepathic communication with its mother. Finally, Robyn Irving-Nato and Dr. Thomas Verny present their analysis of an Omni Magazine questionnaire pertaining to pre- and perinatal experience.

Charles Laughlin


Carleton University

Ottawa, Canada